The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival starts this Thursday—ARThound’s top picks in world cinema
ARThound loves a great film, with a story that speaks right to my heart and if the setting is in some distant land, all the better. The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 37) kicks-off this Thursday evening with two promising opening night films—Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman and Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children— and a splendid opening night party and then gets down to serious full-day programming from Friday onward. This festival, continually rated among the top ten in the world, offers 11 days of the best new films from around the world. In addition, there are intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars. This year, over 150 guests and film luminaries will attend and a select few will be honored in spotlights, tributes, centerpieces, and special screenings and many will be participating in post-film Q&A’s. There are also numerous musical performances and parties. And for those who fear all that sitting will take a toll on their derrieres, there’s even an Active Cinema hike this Saturday hike from Tennessee Valley to the ocean where guests can get some light, take in fresh air and share their impressions with cinephiles and festival guests. Having poured over the program, watched numerous screeners, and gotten the scoop directly from festival programmers, ARThound is really excited to cover the festival.
If you’ve missed my previous coverage, here is the link explaining the ins and outs of this festival and the advantages of CFI (California Film Institute) membership for early access to tickets:
ARThound’s top picks in the World Cinema category:
316 —Iran | 2014 | 72 min |World Premiere | Executive Producer Behrang Saar Klein in attendance—It’s a no-brainer almost anywhere you go in the world, shoes express personality like nothing else. From Iranian producer Payman Haghani in Rasht, Iran, (Mardi Ke Gilass Hayash Ra Khord (A Man Who Ate His Cherries), 2009) comes his endearing second feature, 316 (2104), which tells an elderly Persian woman’s life story through the shoes of people she remembers and events unfolding in Iran. Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers who are based in Iran to make personal appearances at film festivals but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling. Aptly put in a recent New Yorker article (6/10/2014), Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor of Jam’eh, said “We have freedom of expression in Iran…We just don’t have freedom after expression.” And yet Iran’s next generation have managed to become central in Iran’s complex social and political discourse. Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition. 316 artfully melds archival “footage” with animation and dramatic sequences to create a life story that tells a larger truth. (Screens: Saturday, Oct 4, 1:30 PM, 142 Throckmorton, Tuesday, Oct 5, 5 PM, Sequoia 1)
The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi) —Japan | 2014, 136 min—This elegant period romance set in 1920’ Tokyo is the first romance film directed by Yoji Yamada in his 50 year career. The filmmaker is famous in Japan for his immensely popular Otoko wa Tsurai yo series (48 films made over 25 years) and Samurai Trilogy (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor). The Little House is based on Kyoko Nakajima’s novel “Chiisai ouchi,” 2010 winner of the Naoki Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards. The story revolves around Takeshi, a young Japanese man and his posthumous encounter with his late aunt, Taki Nunomiya (Haru Kuroki), who left several journals behind. Through the notebooks, he learns of her life and the film proceeds, in flashbacks, to tell her story.
Prior to World War II, in a little house with a red triangular roof in Tokyo, young Taki works as a housemaid for a Masaki, a Toy company executive who lives with his wife Tokiko (Takako Matsu) and their 5 year-old son. When Tokiko’s husband hires a young art school graduate, Shoji Itakura; a love affair blossoms between Tokiko and Shoji, whom Taki also has feelings for. Meanwhile, as the war situation heats up, so too do the relationships in the little house. This isn’t a conventional love triangle but an exploration of how this budding relationship impacts Taki’s relationship with Tokiko and her later life. Taki transitions from an unsophisticated young maiden, who initially stands in fear and awe of her beautiful employer, to a trusted confidante who speaks the truth when called upon to do so. Haru Kuroki won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale (Berlin International Berlin Film Festival). The remarkable political discussions that occur in passing are just one of the film’s many delights. (Screens: Friday, Oct 3, 6 PM, Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 4, 11AM, Lark Theatre)
Ice Poison (Bing Du)—Myanmar/Taiwan R.O.C. | 2014 | 95min—Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based director Midi Z (Return to Burma (2011), Poor Folk (2012)), continues his shrewd examination of social and economic disparities in Myanmar with Ice Poison. Shot on location in Myanmar by a seven-member crew in an impoverished ethnically Chinese community on the outskirts of Lashio, near the Chinese border, this is the story of two young Burmese who get caught up in the drug trade in order to escape their bleak circumstances. The feature opens with an old Chinese farmer and his nameless son (Wang Shin-hong) toiling on their parched field in Lashio. The desperate farmer sells his beloved cow to buy a dilapidated scooter so his son can drive a motorcycle taxi. He asks just one thing in return: his son mustn’t get involved in drugs. Among the son’s first fares is a Burmese-born Chinese woman named Sanmei (Wu Ke-xi), who has come home from China for a funeral and is making a new start. She desperately needs money to bring her son to Lashio. Her scheme involves helping her drug-dealing cousin deliver crystal meth, known as “ice poison,” to local addicts. She convinces the son to go into business with her as a driver. Midi Z draws us into the hard and fractured lives of these two young adults, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer. Through its intimate portrayal of their circumstances, aspirations, anguish and choices, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is just not possible. Ice Poison won Best Film in Int’l Competition, 68th Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Director, Peace and Love Film Festival, Dalarna, Sweden (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 6 PM Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 11, 11:45 AM, Sequoia 1)
The Patent Wars—Germany | 2014 | 88 min | North American Premiere | Director Hannah Prinzler in attendance—In all but the most capable hands, a documentary about trends in patent litigation could be very dry. German filmmakers Hannah Leonie Prinzler and Volker Ullrich succeed in making the complex topic fascinating by showing us how, in the U.S. in particular, the patent holder has evolved from the classical innovator like Thomas Edison into yet another tool of corporate greed that puts profit above human life. The savvy doc takes us on a trip around the world to visit at least a dozen well-known figures who explain how the landscape has changed—how patents have proliferated and become global strategic weapons, how profits are made from the mere threat of patent infringement, and who bears the economic and social consequences. The film was in the works while the Myriad Genetics lawsuit over the patenting of human genes was still in litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court but a visit with breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani wonderfully summarizes the case’s impact on breast cancer victims and on the patenting human genes. It really does seem that almost everything can be patented in the US, sometimes with just a description (not an actual realization) by the patent holders. Once a patent is in hand, the holder can decide later how much to charge to test for a medication or to plant a seed, thereby controlling access only to the privileged.
Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury inflamed many when he patented sequences of yoga poses. A visit to Delhi to Vinod Kumar Gupta’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a unique database developed to prevent foreign companies from patenting products based on ancient sub-continental know-how, shows how Indian is struggling to get savvy on the IP front. Unfortunately, for India and much of the developing world, patents are currently being used to deny the development of crucial generic medications and lives are being lost. A visit with Anil Gupta, India’s “Ghandi of Innovation” unveils what India, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic (patent-free) medicines, is doing to proactively protect its genetic resources as well. The film concludes with a visit to car enthusiasts in Arizona who are collaborating to build the first open-source cars, showing us that patents are not the only way to inspire innovations. (Screens: Sat, Oct 4, 5:15 PM, Rafael 3 and Monday, Oct 6, 6:30 PM, Rafael 3)
Timbuktu— France/Mauritania | 2014 | 97 min | West Coast Premiere | Actor Ibrahim Ahmed in attendance—Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono) (2002), Bamako (2007)) is one of a handful of filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa who has the rapt attention of the film world. His latest feature, Timbuktu, is the world’s first look at the jihadist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012 by fundamentalists whose brutal Islamist law shattered the lives of innumerable families. As always, his understated style combines graceful storytelling with a remarkably rigorous exploration of exile and displacement. Sissako focuses on the break-up of a close-knit Tuareg cattle-herding family who live peacefully in the dunes with their beloved cow “GPS.” When the cow goes missing, the father, Kidane (first-time actor Ibrahim Ahmed in a mesmerizing performance) accidentally shoots a fisherman dead in a lake and becomes victim to the horrors of Timbuktu’s improvised court system. The peripheral story lines are every bit as riveting. The hardliners punish Timbuktu residents for playing music or even soccer with stonings, executions and lashings. Sissako’s handling of atrocities in an almost matter-of-fact way punctuates their shock value. (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 1:45 PM, Rafael 1 and Monday, Oct 6, 3 PM, Sequoia 1)
The Lamb (Kuzu)—Turkey | 2014 | 85 min | US Premiere—London-based Turkish filmmaker and artist Kutluğ Ataman made such a splash in the contemporary art world (Documenta, Venice Biennale, Carnegie Prize, Cream Art) with his videos that he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2004 and has since racked up an impressive list of exhibitions and commissions. Ataman brings his artistic flair to The Lamb, his fifth feature film, a family drama set in rural Anatolia which inhabits the delicate world of children. The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan), his wily older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk), and their financially-strapped family’s struggle to throw Mert a proper circumcision feast. They cannot afford the traditional lamb which is central to the celebration. When Vicdan (affectionately called mommy’s “Little Lamb”) taunts Mert by telling him that they’ll roast him in the tandoor if they don’t come up with the money for the lamb, he freaks and sets out to find a solution on his own. The highlight of the film is the wonderful interaction of the children, who can be so sweet and so cruel. Vicdan’s descriptions of the pending procedure border on tortuous, while bumbling Mert grabs your heart. Subplots involve the father and his womanizing and the mother and her plot to take revenge on villagers who have been unsympathetic to her plight. In all, Ataman weaves a rich and humorous story highlighting the inequality and lack of options for women, particularly in rural areas, and the liberties accorded men. Feza Caldiran’s breathtaking cinematography of a wintery remote Anatolia makes elevates the film to art. The Lamb won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale. (Screens: Wednesday, Oct 8, 3 PM, Sequoia 1 and Sunday, Oct 12, 11:30 AM, Rafael 2)
Details: The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2 -12, 2014. The festival’s homepage is here. Advance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. Click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.
Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)
There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—
Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm
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